Digimon. Digital Monsters, if you will. A fictitious collection of creatures that captured the hearts and minds of children long ago, by taking the concept of virtual pets and asking one simple question: What if they could fight? Then they did. Then there was an anime and they saved the world. Then they did it again. Then Chiaki J. Konaka got involved and things got dark. Then they got lighter. Then a few petitions cropped up and the video game side of the franchise reappeared in the Western market, resulting in another World and a rather interesting Story. However, we all know that stories are not one-sided endeavours, leading to yet another question asked and answered: What was happening, like, two meters to the left of the protagonist of Cyber Sleuth?
Just so there are no misconceptions about what this game is, Hacker’s Memory is rather heavily tied into its predecessor in terms of both setting and story. Though the tale of this game is one unto itself, far too many references to Cyber Sleuth are made to call it a stand alone title in any sense of the word. Sure, you could focus on the goings on of the hacker group Hudie (the bunch joined by silent-protagonist-player-stand-in-guy), but the word inexplicably falling apart at the literal seams raises a distracting amount of questions. This notion only spirals further into the territory of the unexplained when characters jump between the story threads of each game, waving goodbye one moment and then returning four hours later with an arm made of a literal computer virus. I mean, it’s still pretty weird when you know the full story, but the context helps ease the blow…a little. The game also refers to every main mission as “Yet Another Side Story”, just to really remind you to play Cyber Sleuth first. But hey, Hackers rebel against authority (I think), so why listen to what some piece of technology tells you?
When we do reign the focus in to Hudie, however, we find a nice little story about a group of people just left of prime time. Whilst the artifactually titular Cyber Sleuth is off saving the world, Hudie is left snipping the less crucial hanging threads. Or at least, that’s what I think the game was going for. Instead, Hacker’s Memory focuses on a group of people so inextricably linked with the main story, and the characters within, it is a minor miracle they did not appear in the first game. From knowing each other in days gone by, to a few chance meetings, to spending the better part of an afternoon eating an omelette, the fact that Hudie wasn’t on the previous crew’s speed dial when the Digital World flipped its lid is…well, an in-universe oddity caused by the fact Hacker’s Memory was not conceived when Cyber Sleuth was released. Personally, it is not so egregious as to ruin the experience of Hacker’s Memory, it’s just a strange element that exists to justify the story’s place within a more epic story.
As far as good ol’ gameplay goes, Hacker’s Memory is just like its older sibling. A turn-based jaunt through level grinding that will see your Digimon allies change shapes more than a piece of Playdough. Not a fan of the three choices for Digimon starter partner? It won’t matter because, with enough training, they can be anything. Seriously, I began with a Tentomon and ended up with Mastemon. For those unaware, that is a beetle transforming into and angel/demon hybrid. Which is awesome. Digimon also maintain any non-unique abilities gained from each form, allowing you to acquire a plethora of powerful attacks, before settling on the form you enjoy the most. This is great for covering the inherent weaknesses of each creature’s typing, however said match-ups can be a little obtuse.
To put it simply: Virus beats Data, Data beats Vaccine, Vaccine beats Virus and Free is exempt neutral to/from all three. Sounds easy enough and, unless you keep forgetting which type each icon represents (like me) is, it is. The situation becomes a little more confusing when elements are added on top of these types, with some clashing with the previously establishes match-ups. Fire beats Plant, Plant beats Water and Water beats Fire. Classic. Electric beats Wind, Wind beats Earth and Earth beats Electric. Less classic. Light and Dark beat each other. Biblical. So, you can imagine the fun of a Plant Data Digimon combating a Fire Vaccine Digimon. Or you can’t, because you just pick Digimon you like and hit enemies until they fall down. Which is a legitimate strategy…or so I heard from somebody who definitely isn’t me.
Leaning back from the drama of typing continued, Hacker’s Memory adds a slight twist on the battle formula occasionally throughout your adventure. Well, the twist isn’t so much on the actual battles themselves and is, in fact, more of a framing device. During select missions both story and non, you will be informed that a Domination Battle lies ahead of you. In these conflicts, two teams of three square up on a grid, each armed with their own Digimon team. Should a player land on the same square as another, a battle commences wherein each Digimon is allowed a single attack. Should one team be defeated, they are sent back to their starting square and must begin their trek anew. What trek, you may ask? Why, the trek to mark grid tiles as your own. Each square landed on adds one point to your teams total, bringing you closer to the Victory Condition stipulated at the conflicts onset. However, certain places are worth five, or even ten, points and are immediately the destination of player and AI alike. Though a fairly simple tweak, the variation does stand out against the well established practice of running around until the screen swirls into a random encounter. Still, the single minded purpose of attaining the required point total first, robs each Domination Battle of any real strategy. Simply beeline it for the biggest number and destroy whoever stands in your way. Combine this with the reused grid layouts and you’ve got yourself a formula that quickly turns stale. It does have the benefit of only appearing sporadically within the story proper, but that being a benefit merely reinforces the previous sentence.
Speaking of combat, I would like to take some time to discuss status ailments. Unlike a certain other franchise ending in ‘mon, Cyber Sleuth has no limits on the amount of debuffs that can affect a creature. Whilst greatly useful when fighting tough opponents, there a few who would turn such a strategy against you. Namely Mushroomon. How I hate Mushroomon. I legitimately created this entire paragraph to declare how much I wish it would just not be near me in this game. To explain my unyielding fury, you must simply know two words: Fungus Crusher. A signature move that damages all opponents and randomly causes status afflictions…like, three or four at a time. So what may seem like a normal fight against a relatively common Digimon, becomes a frustrating struggle against simultaneous Stun, Poison, Sleep, Dot, Panic and Paralysis. It’s…not fun. Enough so that I felt the need to bring it up, although that might say more about me than the game.
Fungus notwithstanding, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth – Hacker’s Memory is a fun experience. Though possible to enjoy it as it stands, I would really only recommend such an approach if story really isn’t your jam. However, considering the second word in the title, the game is inherently aware of its status as an addendum. Even having played the original Cyber Sleuth, however, plot moments occur out of left field, entirely off screen and with an increasingly rapid pace that is disorienting to say the least. To say the most, Hacker’s Memory appears to be a case of extended DLC, utilising mostly pre-existing assets and planting a new scenario within. So, long story short, if you wanted more Cyber Sleuth, you’ve got it. If not, you still have it, but you don’t have to play it. Because, whether you choose to dive back into the world of Digimon or not, remember: It’s your hackin’ business.
Hacker’s Memory is the Key